|David Stech and Xiaomeng Zhang|
We hear a lot of baritones and most of them are quite listenable. But the current crop of graduates has been remarkable. (See May 4th review of Xiaoming Tian). Last night Xiomeng Zhang presented his graduation recital as he is about to be granted a Masters Degree from Manhattan School of Music. His recital gave evidence of a great deal of work and yet he appeared completely relaxed onstage and made every song appear easy.
In our opinion, his voice is perfect for the bel canto repertoire. His Italian flows like olive oil from one phrase to the next with perfect legato. The timbre of his voice is warm and exceedingly pleasant with just the right vibrato. His interpretations are particularly expressive.
Although he is perhaps too young in appearance for the part, his voice was perfect in "Bella siccome un angelo" from Donizetti's Don Pasquale. The crafty Doctor Malatesta is trying to pass off Ernesto's beloved Norina as his convent-educated sister Sofronia. Mr. Zhang got it just right.
No less wonderful were the other well known selections by Gluck and Bellini. Perhaps our favorite was Verdi's "Non t'accostare all'urna" which is filled with bitterness and therefore gives an opportunity for intensity of performance.
Mr. Zhang's facility in Italian was equalled by his facility in French. We were sure we never wanted to hear Ravel's Don Quichotte à Dulcinée again, having heard it on every single baritone program the past few months. Nonetheless, Mr. Zhang made it his own with lovely Gallic phrasing and good dynamic control. The variety from the dreamy "Chanson romanesque" to the passionately reverent "Chanson épique" to the bubulously expansive "Chanson à boire" held our interest.
With crisply enunciated German, Mr. Zhang performed the first seven songs of Schumann's Dichterliebe op.48. Heinrich Heine's incomparable poetry inspired Schumann to some glorious writing for piano and voice and Mr. Zhang interpreted it well. The cycle begins with the promise of love but by the end he is "singing a different tune" so to speak--one of disappointment and bitterness.
There was more to come in the program, songs in English and songs in Mandarin, which we wish we had understood. Even the best English diction is never as clear as Italian or German but Mr. Zhang's was as good as anyone else's. For the final song in Mandarin, he was joined by soprano Amy Frances Kuckelman. At times the voices were in unison, at other times they harmonized beautifully, and at other times the vocal lines were completely different but woven together.
Wolfram's aria "Oh, du mein holde Abendstern" from Wagner's Tannhäuser was the perfect encore, showing yet another aspect of Mr. Zhang's talent. Could anything be more welcome when one is about to step out into the night?
After hearing the artist sing so well in five languages we confess to being impressed. His collaborative pianist David Štech is also his coach and surely deserves some credit.
(c) meche kroop